2014 NBA Draft: Joel Embiid Back Injury Has Bust Written All Over It

The 2014 NBA draft class is the most anticipated in several years, thanks to the big three of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Joel Embiid. As the lottery teams anxiously await the 2014 NBA draft lottery next Tuesday night, there are still some big questions to be answered. The biggest question: What is the condition of Joel Embiid’s back injury?

Throughout the 2013-2014 season, Kansas freshman Joel Embiid exploded onto the radar of NBA scouts with his incredible raw talent. Embiid’s energy, size, athleticism, and defensive intuition caused many mock drafts to skyrocket him past Kentucky’s Julius Randle. Randle had previously been considered the top big man in the 2014 NBA draft class. But in just 23 minutes per game this season, Joel Embiid averaged 11 points, 8 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks. More than the stats, the eye test revealed a coachable player who actually dominated more games this season than Andrew Wiggins.

Then something very concerning happened late in the season. Joel Embiid seemed to slow down due to being in serious pain. With Joel Embiid suffering from a knee and back injury, the Kansas basketball staff decided to hold him out for the rest of the season. Almost out of nowhere, Embiid was then sent to surgery to repair a stress fracture in his back. Embiid has not played in a basketball games since March 1st and has still not been cleared for full contact training.

We have seen this before in the NBA draft. It is so difficult to find a reliable big man in the NBA, so teams go crazy when one emerges. Athletic big men cause NBA GM’s to do crazy things, like draft Darko Milicic. When a big man has the potential of Embiid, it seems that teams check reason at the door and are willing to mortgage an entire draft on a limited sample size. The worst cases are when teams choose to ignore an injury to one of these big man “projects.”

The most recent NBA draft bust example is Greg Oden. Viewed by many as a “can’t miss” big man, everyone chose to overlook his knee problems. The Portland Trailblazers, who should have known better thanks to Sam Bowie, decided to take a chance on Greg Oden instead of Kevin Durant. Well, both players are still in the 2014 NBA playoffs, but have taken decidedly different paths to get there. Joel Embiid has a very “Greg Oden” feel about him.

After the 2014 NBA draft lottery next week, teams will begin to conduct their own physicals. Expect all of the top five teams to take a look at Joel Embiid. But while Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins are almost sure things, Joel Embiid is a high risk pick. Someone in the 2014 NBA draft will take a chance on Joel Embiid. Will one of those top five teams reach for him or will he fall like Nerlens Noel last year?

[Image via Photo by Nick Krug]